Mar 24, 2020 - Health

Health officials warn against Trump easing coronavirus restrictions

President Donald Trump (R) leads a meeting with the White House Coronavirus Task Force
White House coronavirus response coordinator Debbie Brix, Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump during a task force meeting this month. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Health officials and two state governors are pushing back after President Trump's suggested Monday that physical distancing restrictions introduced to clamp down on the spread of the novel coronavirus will be lifted "fairly soon."

The big picture: Trump told a briefing, "If it were up to the doctors, they may say let's keep it shut down — let's shut down the entire world." The president added that the U.S. "wasn't built to be shut down."

  • Trump said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the Trump administration task force, "doesn't not agree" with him on easing restrictions.
  • Fauci, who wasn't at Monday's briefing, told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday: "The things that we're seeing in this country, this physical separation at the same time as we're preventing an influx of cases coming in, I think that's going to go a long way to preventing us from becoming another Italy."

What they're saying: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) tweeted, "If it's public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health. You cannot put a value on human life."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who announced Monday the "soft closure" of state beaches and parks to curb the spread of the virus, told reporters of Trump's suggestion, "We clearly are operating under a different set of assumptions. ... we're moving in different direction."

  • He added he has "no trepidation whatever he does from a national prism will get in the way of our state’s efforts."

Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in a Twitter thread to drop all the measures in place would be to accept that coronavirus patients "will get sick in extraordinary numbers all over the country, far beyond what the U.S. health care system could bear."

  • "Anyone advising the end of social distancing now, needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that. COVID would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, could kill potentially millions in the yr ahead with huge social and economic impact across the country," Inglesby said.

Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told the New York Times, "You can't call off the best weapon we have, which is social isolation, even out of economic desperation, unless you're willing to be responsible for a mountain of deaths."

  • Caplan added 30 days of restrictions "makes more sense than 15 days." "Can't we try to put people's lives first for at least a month?" he said.

Howard Koh, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor and former Obama administration public health official, told Politico it's "way too early to even consider rolling back any guidelines."

  • "With cases and deaths rising by the day, the country must double down, not lighten up, on social distancing and related measures," he added.

Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, said in a Twitter thread, "There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy. But it should not be lost on anyone that there's no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as covid-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.

The state of play: COVID-19 had infected more than 46,000 people and killed 593 others in the U.S. by Tuesday morning, per Johns Hopkins data. The U.S. has the third-highest number of cases in the world, behind Italy (almost 64,000 infections) and China (over 81,000 cases).

Go deeper